As I mentioned a few posts back, we’ll be spending three weeks in Italy this summer. I am usually rather cagey about our travels until we have actually arrived at the destination, but I’m doing it differently this time. I’m writing about it before we go in order to aid in my own preparation and perhaps deepen the level at which I will be writing about it during and after. I don’t know why, but I am just intuiting that it is the approach to take this time.
I had not planned, intended or even hoped to go to Bologna or Parma and had not even heard of Ferrara or Commachio or Rimini two months ago, but now I can sketch rough maps of each of them, can have well-informed debates with myself about which should be included in the trip and why, and am in general counting down the weeks until we are there.
This seems to be how it always happens with me. A place is at best barely floating on the edges of my radar, and then for some reason – a good fare, an article about an intriguing attraction, the desire to go to a place where no one else you know has been – within weeks my mental landscape has once again expanded just a little bit.
I suppose that since there are not many places on the planet I am not interested in seeing, given the opportunity or means, this is not surprising. It doesn’t take much, in other words.
But what about the 11 and 15 year old boys? What about them and their needs?
People who discourage or disparage family travel really drive me nuts. You don’t know how many discussions I have read on travel boards in which some innocent mom or dad enters the fray asking for advice about what to see on a family trip to somewhere like Milan or I don’t know, Bologna and the answers they get are either, “Make sure their devices are charged up, because they’ll be so bored, don’t you people have Disney World in your country? You should probably just do that instead.” or “Well, there’s an amusement park nearby. Just go there.”
Well, these guys are great, patient, curious travelers. We are not all interested in the same things, but we all understand the value of the trade-off. You’re patient while we explore this thing that is interesting to me, and I’ll be patient later while you’re doing your thing. They are also curious about the world and, faithful to their genetic heritage on both sides, inveterate and observant people-watchers.
They also just seem to trust me. I guess I have a good record as a tour guide so far.
Oh, and visions of daily gelato? That helps, too.
When it came to plan some summer travel, I had just a few parameters to work around: Music camp for the younger son, scout camp for the older one, and an annual scout rafting trip to North Carolina. The first two would happen in June, the last a weekend in late July. School starts in early August. I know, right? That’s life in the South for you…done with school by May 20, back in the classrom by August 8 or something ridiculous.
Last year, we had a fantastic trip out West – Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Death Valley and Vegas during that same time period. Well, the Vegas part wasn’t fantastic, but everything else was. Zion was probably our favorite.
This year, shockingly good airfare popped up from Atlanta to points in Italy for summer travel. I mean – shocking. The ATL has had relatively little competition for international flights, and I really do think their international fares are probably among the highest from a major East-of-the-Mississip hub. Even Charlotte gets better deals and more often than Atlanta does.
But I hit a sweet spot this time, and so, as I said before, we’ll be flying into Bologna and out of Pisa about three weeks later.
So, first stop will be, indeed, Bologna and Emilia-Romanga. But why?
Bologna is not on the top tier of Italian tourist destinations – wait, Rick Steves doesn’t even have a book on Emilia-Romagna! Should I cancel?
As is usually the case, you find different opinions on the city of Bologna On The Internet. Some love it, rave and say it’s fantastic partly because it’s not heavily touristed. Others say it’s boring and dirty and worth maybe a morning if that. Because there’s nothing there for tourists.
I learned long ago that with travel opinions, you just have to keep gathering your intel from all sides…and then experience it yourself. People just have such different expectations of travel – when they express opinions of a destination or attraction, it helps to know where they’re coming from, but since you usually don’t have access to that inside information, you’d be advised to keep a salt cellar next to your computer as you read.
For example: When we were in France a few years ago, one of the places we stayed was this wonderful gite in the Dordogne. The other family staying in another cottage on the property was a husband, wife and teen daughter from Wellington, New Zealand, in the midst of a 6-week European tour. They had arrived from a few days in Paris, we would be traveling there in a couple of weeks, and as the dad gifted me with their leftover Metro tickets, he commented that they hadn’t liked Paris anyway. But why?
It was so dirty.
Okay. I’d never been to Paris, and this wasn’t unimaginable, I thought. Big, old city. Probably dirty.
Well, then we got to Paris, stayed a month, and I thought, Wellington, New Zealand must be spotless.
Sure, the Metro stairwells were messy, the elevator in our station smelled strongly of urine, which I assume was from the homeless folk who stayed there at night, but..the entire gestalt of the city? Dirty? Generally? Not at all, especially when compared to (no offense) Chicago and New York City. But there are other European cities – probably German and Swiss – which are super clean, so compared to them, I suppose.
Anyway, what I’ve found is that it’s best to find the kinds of travelers who live in your same general comfort zone and trust their opinions.
So yes, I’m looking forward to Bologna!
And what I have learned about Bologna…let me tell you. I knew nothing about the area before six weeks ago, and now, as per usual, I could teach a class. To second-graders, but still, it would be a semi-informative class on Bologna and Emilia-Romagna at a level suitable for seven-year olds.
First of all, we’re looking forward to food. I am not much of a meat-eater, except for one thing: cured meats. Love salamis, hams…everything cured. So yes, this is the place for me – and for one of my sons, who is also passionate about cured meats. Cheese. Real Bolognese pasta, which is different from the sauce-heavy version we associate with it here in the US. I recently made a baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, and it was a revelation.
We are doing a food tour that starts in Parma – a parmesan cheese facility, a winery, a balsamic vinegar facility in Modena, and a Parma ham/cured meat joint. Plus lunch. I hardly ever do tours, but this is the most efficient way to see all of this, and plus…maybe I’ll learn something? From another person instead of just from a book?
Cars! I don’t give a flying flip about cars, but my 15-year old who just got his learner’s permit has a steadily growing interest, so we might check a tour or museum out. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati all have either factories or museums in the region, so we’ll try to find one with the best cost/satisfaction/time ratio.
And then there’s Bologna itself. What I Have Learned:
- Bologna is known for its porticoes – or covered sidewalks. They’re UNESCO-worthy. 53 kilometers of them, including 3.5 km that go outside the city, uphill, to the Shrine of San Luca. We will do this!
- The oldest university in Europe, including the 17th century anatomical theater.
- Some interesting museums, including those featuring archaeology, industry and even anatomical models. We’ll see what we can squeeze in, especially taking into consideration those crazy Italian opening/closing hours.
- Of course, Catherine of Bologna, sitting up, waiting for us.
- And St. Dominic! Why did I not know that St. Dominic’s tomb is in Bologna?
- The complex of Santo Stefano – modeled, it is said, after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, originally seven churches, now four.
Next up: We’ll miss Siena’s, but Ferrara has a palio, too. Who knew? Well, the Ferrarans, but besides them….
Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll talk about the research and prep I’m doing – which is an addicting pastime for me, but at least it’s educational and not a complete waste of time.
And just to let you know, I plan to up my social media game on this trip, not to a distracting point to us, but just for the purpose of sharing intriguing images and vignettes, especially from places that are less familiar to American travelers. What I post is generally not about me or much less my kids, but about what I see and how I see it. So if that interests you, be sure to start following me on Twitter, Instagram and on Periscope (same handle as Twitter – I have not broadcast yet, but will probably start practicing soon.). I have a Pinterest board here with some of the links I’m saving for myself – when I remember to pin them. Facebook remains mostly for actual acquaintances and family members, although I might start just linking these other social media to the Charlotte Was Both page. That’s probably a good idea. Let’s do it!
And if you have suggestions regarding this area…please share them!